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Posts Tagged ‘AT&T’

The U.S. Supreme Court, which hasn’t had the best year when it comes to looking out for the rights of average citizens, heard arguments this morning in another case that has huge implications for everyone reading this post. The case, AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, puts the rights of consumers to band together in class-action lawsuits at risk. If the court rules in favor of AT&T, corporations could put clauses in their consumer contracts prohibiting class-actions. David Lazarus wrote about the potential fallout in a recent L.A. Times column:

Consumer advocates say that without the threat of class-action lawsuits, many businesses would be free to engage in unfair or deceptive practices. Few people would litigate on their own to resolve a case involving, say, a hundred bucks.

“The marketplace is fairer for consumers and workers because there’s a deterrent out there,” said Deepak Gupta, an attorney for the advocacy group Public Citizen who will argue on consumers’ behalf before the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

“Companies are afraid of class actions,” he said. “This helps keep them honest.”

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If you don’t know anything about AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, you should. The case, which will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 9, has frightening implications for consumers.

Basically, the court will decide whether companies can deny consumers and employees the right to band together through class actions to fight fraud, discrimination and other illegal practices. AT&T argues that the courts must enforce the fine print of its contracts that ban class actions. Public Citizen attorney Deepak Gupta will argue before the court on behalf of consumers, claiming that the contracts are unconscionable and unenforceable.

When a large number of consumers have claims for small amounts, it is not feasible to pursue the claims without a class action. Concepcion is exactly that kind of case. The Concepcions allege that AT&T illegally charged them $30.11. Multiplied by the number of AT&T’s California customers alone, the allegations implicate ill-gotten gains in the millions of dollars. But if consumers can litigate the claims only one by one, no one will do so, and AT&T will keep the proceeds of its illegal activity.

In the video above, Public Citizen President Robert Weissman and Gupta give a telephone press briefing on the case.

If AT&T wins, not only will it be difficult for AT&T’s customers to hold that company accountable for its actions, but also for people with civil rights, labor, consumer and other kinds of claims that stem from corporate wrongdoing. Dozens of organizations, including leading civil rights and consumer groups, have filed briefs asking the court not to allow corporations to ban class actions. The briefs and other information about the case are available at the Consumer Law & Policy Blog.

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I wonder if AT&T spent just a little bit more money improving its cell-phone coverage and less money trying to influence politicians, if I might actually be able to use my iPhone inside my house? Since 1989, AT&T has contributed $45.6 million to candidates running for office, which puts the communications giant at the top of the 10 Biggest Corporate Campaign Contributors in U.S. Politics from 1989 to 2010. Bruce Watson at AOL’s Daily Finance put together the list of big givers, which includes a couple corporations you might expect, such as Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, and a couple you might not, such as UPS and Microsoft. Watson also identifies some of the members of Congress who benefited most from the contributions:

It isn’t hard to see why the phone company is willing to open its wallet for Congress. After its early-1980s antitrust breakup, Ma Bell has spent the last few decades putting itself back together again. Today, it’s the largest land-based phone carrier, the largest cellular carrier and the 13th-largest company in the U.S. In 2006, as AT&T’s political giving reached its apex, the company bought Bell South, a major piece of the post-breakup puzzle. Coincidence?

See the complete list here.

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